Jon Jones had to dig deep to emerge victorious against Thiago Santos in July 2019, and “Marreta” was forced to go under the knife to have surgery on both knees. Sixteen months later, Santos didn’t feel the same against Glover Teixeira.
“Marreta” dropped Teixeira twice in their main event clash in Las Vegas, but ended up losing due to a rear-naked choke in the third round. Ready to return against rising light heavyweight Aleksandar Rakic at Saturday night’s UFC 259, “Marreta” opens up on the mental struggles he had to go through this past year.
“My last camp had too much anxiety mixed with doubt, fear of having another knee problem,” Santos said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I was still recovering, doing physical therapy, so it was different. I was only focused on training now, feeling my knee 100 percent.”
The former UFC title contender said he feels “physically better” this time around, and his mind was his biggest enemy back in November.
“If you watch it, I only threw one kick the entire fight,” he said. “I didn’t kick too much. I usually kick a lot. I did more boxing. I think it was a [mental] block, a year and a half away, so that was the main difference. Now I know everything is normal again, everything is fine, so I can do everything inside the octagon.
“I think I needed to live this whole experience again, I need to enter the octagon, feel that adrenaline. I think that’s what was missing for me to finish my recovery. I needed to feel that. It was excellent, and I feel recovered now.”
Santos will attempt to rebound from his first losing skid as a 205-pounder while Rakic enters the cage coming off a decision victory over Anthony Smith, his first bout since dropping a controversial split decision to Volkan Oezdemir. On paper, Santos would agree that Rakic is a good matchup for him style-wise, but nothing is too certain in MMA.
“Rakic is also a striker but we’ve seen him shooting for takedowns in last fights, working on his ground and pound on top, dominating the fight,” Santos said. “It’s hard to say he will trade with me or that he will just take me down. He’s an excellent striker, so we have to be ready for everything in there — and that’s what I’m doing.”
“I think he will trade with me, but I’m also sure he will try to grapple with me after watching my last fight,” he continued. “That’s what I’d do [if I were him]. He will think it will be the same thing, that he will fight the same Thiago ‘Marreta.’ He will strike, but will be more strategic at some point. He will try to take me down and dominate me on the ground.”
The UFC light heavyweight gold will be on the line in the main event of UFC 259, as champion Jan Blachowicz defends his throne against 185-pound kingpin Israel Adesanya. Santos doesn’t expect to be the next in line for a shot at the belt with a win Saturday, but hopes to get back in the mix and potentially earn another crack at the title with another victory.
As for the UFC belt, the Rio de Janeiro native, a former middleweight himself, sees a “slight” advantage for Adesanya to become a two-division champion because “he has more weapons and moves really well, he’s fast, and has good reach.”
“If Adesanya wins, he will go back to 185 [or] he might stay on both, we don’t know,” Santos said. “We know the line will move again if Blachowicz wins, Glover is next, and the division will go on. But we have no idea what will happen if Adesanya wins.”